Friday, October 30, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Castlevania: Circle of the Moon"

...Dracula? Again?! Like every Halloween (except, y'know, last year), it seems that Dracula always comes back again to muck things up for the land of the living.  Traditionally, in these situations, it's up to the members of the Belmont plan to lay a smackula down on Ol' Drac.  This time, however, it's not a Belmont but young Nathan Graves who's destined to crack that whip.  Thirty-three years after Alucard defeated Dracula for the totally extremely finally time, honest, Dracula's back thanks to his smexy devotee Camilla reviving him. Before he can return to his full power, however, Nathan Graves, his best friend Hugh, and his mentor Morris Baldwin bust in to stop him.

Nathan and Hugh are almost immediately dropped down into Dracula's castle via a trap door.

Oops.

Nevertheless, it's now Nathan's task to journey through the home of Dracula in the traditional manner, whip and secondary weapons included. Gameplay-wise, if you've played any Castlevania game, you've played this.  However, it also helps if you've played Symphony of the Night, because it runs very similar to that in that someone chucked a bunch of RPG elements into the game.  Nathan kills monsters for experience, levels up, and can find new items lying around (and in the possession of boss monsters) to move himself through previous unreachable areas and on his way to take on Dracula in a final battle.

One of the big draws (or so the game would have you think) is a system based around magic cards that are based on Greek and Roman mythology that can provide Nathan with some minor stat variations and abilities.  All well and good, but not really necessary, per se.

But yes, keep yourself equipped and keep your whip and wits about you and eventually you will prevail against Dracula.  Nathan will be named a master vampire hunter and the day will be saved...and some new modes of play will be unlocked using special codes for the names.  Like with Symphony of the Night, which let you play as Richter by typing in his name after you completed the main quest at least once, you can unlock one of several modes that will play around with your stats and basically send you back through the game with a different playstyle.

Needless to say, I didn't have the want or need to play the game even a second time.

It's not bad, it's just got the same problem that most of the portable versions of Castlevania have had since Symphony of the Night...mainly that they're too much like Symphony of the Night.  Not that that's a bad thing, I loved Symphony of the Night and even said as much.  But lightning does not strike twice and doing the same thing over and over again isn't something one is known for having rousing success with...unless you're Nintendo.

It's not bad, by any means.  But it's really not that great.

Still, Dracula's defeated again...for now.  And as the sun rises to banish the terrible night...reflect on the malice that haunts us always...and have a Happy Halloween, dear readers!

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is available from Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe for the Game Boy Advance.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Hook Man"

"Does this bridge look familiar?" "Shut up, Laurie..."
"No" means "No." Don't be a dick.

Oh, sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. This is Hook, another of Supernatural's spins on an American urban legend - this time being that of the Hook Man legend.  We start out with a young woman named Laurie and her roommate discussing a party that evening. Laurie's roommate gives her a red cleavage-y top and tells her to live a little.  She and her boyfriend have a little makeout session under a bridge and her boyfriend decides to not live a little...getting out of the car and being attacked by an invisible attacker after not realizing that "No" does, in fact, mean "no".

See, now you see where I was going with that.

Nevertheless, afterwards, it's Sam and Dean to the rescue. Or, rather, Sam and Dean to come and investigate as they are wont to do in such situations.  In a shocking turn of events - Sam's still found no sign of John anywhere. Shock of shocks. Dean, on the other hand, actually wants to get the plot along and presents Sam with the scenario of Laurie's boyfriend getting skewered by the invisible attacker.

Arriving, they pose as frat boys from another university and get some exposition from the victim's housemates, which points them in the direction of Laurie - learning that she is also the local  Reverend's daughter. They meet, Dean having to bite the bullet and make small talk with the Reverend while Sam questions Laurie about what she saw. She apparently is stuck as suspect number one to the police and has nearly convinced herself that what she saw was her imagination, though Sam convinces her otherwise.
"Paint me like one of your French girls..."

At the library, Sam relates the rest of the story to Dean (pity she couldn't tell that, but whatever) about how she saw the body of her boyfriend suspended over the car - a textbook example of the Hook Man legend in action. So they hit the books and arrest records, eventually coming up with a name.  Preacher Jacob Karn had a hand replaced with a silver hook and later went on to murder several prostitutes.

Back at the sorority house, Laurie and her father have an argument that literally nobody cares about before she storms off up to her room and witnesses a red herring before seeing that her roommate is asleep and going about her business not bothering her.

Sam and Dean, meanwhile, head back to the site of the murder seeing as Karn's murders all took place in the same area.  With rock salt - a spirit deterrent - in tow, they don't get far before they get caught by the fuzz.

Back at the sorority, Laurie settles into bed and her roommate settles into getting Freddy Krueger'd as the ghost is apparently inside the room!!! And the next morning, Laurie wakes up to find her roommate skewered like a wild boar in her bed and a message scrawled on the wall "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?" Which is, itself, another urban legend.

...and it doesn't really make sense, given that that is a completely different urban legend. And the thought of the ghost having that much pop culture awareness and that much of a sense of humor seems really, really unlike given the character we've been prese-

MadCap Crossed The Streams: 4

...oh, nevermind. The point is, Laurie's roommate is dead. Sam and Dean, meanwhile, get out due to Dean's clever use of "Nah, he's a pledge, brah!". Thus, they're in the perfect place to be there when the call about Laurie's roommate breaks out and follow them to the crime scene. Sam and Dean drive by and see Laurie and she sees them...but they don't stop, just driving off. Laurie's father gets the sheriff to agree to let him take her home after the ordeal.
I CROSSED THE STREAMS? NO, YOU CROSSED THE STREAMS!!!
Heading further down, Sam and Dean check out the crime scene and discuss why the spirit of Jacob Karn isn't haunting the site of his murders, chalking it up to him being raised from the dead by something else. After a would be tense moment where the cops are useless anyway, Sam and Dean find the inscription on the wall and say that it definitely is the Hook Man legend.  Which is bull because it's a completely separate urban legend that has no relation to-

MadCap Crossed The Streams: 5

...seriously?

Yes.

...fine. Within the inscription, Sam recognizes a symbol, the same symbol that was on the hook hand of Jacob Karn.  Thus, it's definitely the spirit of Jacob Karn and it's time to salt and burn...provided they can find the unmarked grave that he was laid to rest in. Dean latches on to Laurie as having something to do with it. By that evening, they're back at the frat house but can't find her there, seeing as one generally doesn't go to a party after finding out their roommate just became the blue plate special at the Hannibal Lecter diner.

Sam, however, has come up with something useful - there have been several arrests of clergymen in the town's history who preached against immorality, claiming that deaths were carried out by some invisible force.  With this, they think that the Reverend may be responsible for Jacob Karn attacking people, using it to protect his daughter or that he may be even subconsciously doing it.

With that, they split up - Dean to try and find the grave, Sam to keep an eye on Laurie. Dean succeeds with surprisingly little issue (finding a gravestone with the same sigil as on the hook) while Sam witnesses Laurie and her father arguing as he sets shop outside.  Afterwards, she comes out and they have a discussion about their mutual grief and the fact that they're both death magnets for the people around them.

"Dean, why'd we come to a party to have this conversation?" "Shut up, Sam."
We also get some traumatic stuff about Laurie's father dating a married woman that we really, really don't care about because they're all characters of the day. However, it does set him up to be on the chopping block as we should all pretty much expect at this point because - again - characters of the day. Laurie does say, however, that she was raised to believe that when you do something wrong...you should be punished.

Also, Sam comes dangerously close to getting him some because mutual grief is sexy...but he stops himself and says he can't because of what happened to Jess.

Oh, and the Reverend gets the hook.  No shock there. Though Sam is able to save him by utilizing rock salt, he has to be taken to the hospital.  There, Sam is questioned by the police who find it suspicious that Sam and Dean are always around when trouble strikes.  Sam relates the story to Dean, telling him that the salting and burning did nothing, and believes that Karn's spirit might be latching onto Laurie, rather than her father.  Her boyfriend tried to go to far, her roommate tried to change her personality, and now this has thrown her into complete emotional turmoil, and thus Karn is out and about.

When asking about the bones, though...Sam asks about the hook, which Dean notes wasn't there.  So it's not so much Laurie as it is...the hook. Provided they can find it. And that they do, hitting the books once more as Dean finds the personal effects of Karn from an old prison logbook, saying that they were all returned to Karn's place of worship upon his death...which would explain why Karn's spirit has been haunting Reverends and Reverends' daughters for years.
"Oh, c'mon, baby. I'm Jared Padalecki. Don't you wanna say you got with Jared Padalecki?"
Some further digging is required - because they sure as hell didn't see a silver hook in the church while they were there - and they learn that it was reforged, though the log doesn't specify just what it was reforged into.  So they break into the Church, going with a scorched Earth policy - if it's silver, it burns. And they go through doing just that, throwing everything into the furnace in the basement...until they hear the creaking of the floorboards. Heading upstairs, they find Laurie praying in the pews.

Sam comes to comfort her, Laurie apparently believing she's at fault for all of this, believing that she's somehow summoned up an Avenging Angel to do this.  Sam assures her that Jacob Karn is no angel...and I'll give the long-standing fans of the show a moment to laugh about this...

...no, take your time.

...

...okay, moving on.

But Laurie is not to be convinced and, unfortunately, comments that she deserves to be punished, too...and the ghost of Jacob Karn is lying in wait. He attacks, Sam and Laurie fleeing but not without Sam getting wounded rather grievously.  When Karn corners Laurie, Dean comes to the rescue and blasts him with rock salt.  It is then that Sam and Dean notice Laurie's necklace, apparently an old church heirloom that is apparently silver.

Sam takes the shotgun and Dean runs the necklace down to the furnace to destroy it. And of course, at the last moment, Karn is destroyed in a really awesome effect shot where the silver of the hook melts and the rest of his body burns away into ash.  Much like the demon effects back in Phantom Traveler, it's definitely a step above what we'll get for spirits later in the series, so kudos there.

Thus, the day is saved. The cops arrive to assess the damage to the church and get everyone's stories about the man with the hook. Laurie and Sam have a moment after Sam gets bandaged up. She thanks him for saving their lives before Sam heads back to the Impala. Dean offers him a chance to stay, but Sam just shakes his head and it's back off to the open road for them.
"With my last breath...I CURSE ZOIDBERG!!!"
This is not a bad episode and the only real issue I have with it is the mixing of two separate urban legends in the aforemention rant that crossed the streams twice. I do like it, though I do find Laurie and her father to both be very bland and one-dimensional, particularly Laurie who I'm sure Sam actually left behind because he couldn't stand the constant "oh, woe is me!" personality. Especially when you compare her to Charlie from Bloody Mary a few weeks ago.

Charlie actually got involved in the plot and, while she did end up needing to be saved by Sam and Dean (after all, the heroes do actually have to do something), she was at least somewhat proactive and didn't spend her entire time onscreen whining about how terrible the situation was. But again, Laurie's only a character of the week so we don't really care about it.

Next week, we're going to get involved in something that bugs a lot of Supernatural fans, even to this day. But is Bugs really so bad as everyone claims? You'll just have to check out the next review to find out...

Supernatural is the property of the CW and Warner Brothers.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, October 26, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Halloween II" (2009)

...No. Just...no. No.

...seriously, I don't wanna do this. Not again. I saw it in 2009 and it sucked. I mean, it sucked. Even diehard Rob Zombie fans cannot possibly defend this steaming pile of shit. I said last week it is probably the worst entry in the Halloween franchise, and I meant it. And I still mean it.  This film just absolutely, positively, without a single doubt just blows. The first red flag, of course, came when Rob Zombie himself said he felt no need to retain any "John Carpenter-ness" for the sequel.

Do you need any more of a gigantic warning that this film is bad?

But that's really only the beginning of the "Oh, my god, why did you do this?!" train. I really cannot fully express how much I hate this movie.  If it were a person, I would gleefully impale it through the chest multiple times with the sharpest implements I could legally possess, then grind up the body to be served to pigs that I would then slaughter in kind before burning them into ash, and then dance around spreading said ashes while gleefully proclaiming aloud to the whole world what I had done and no jury in the whole of creation would convict me.

To commence our trek on this train wreck to nowhere good, we start out with a flashback of Mrs. Myers (Sherri Moon Zombie) visiting Michael (Chase Wright Vanek) at Smith's Grove and bringing him a most curious item - a statue of a white horse. If you're feeling confused, don't worry. I didn't bring it up in my review of Halloween because it wasn't there. In fact, nothing even resembling it was anywhere within the movie. This is a brand new thing that Zombie tries to use to be "artsy".

Still, there's a nice little title card that tells us all about what it is.  From the "Subconscious Psychosis of Dreams", the White Horse is "linked to instinct, purity, and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction". A good thing that would have been a neat manifestation of the inner psychological problems of Michael Myers, as Rob Zombie worked to do in the first movie...and that falls so, so flat here.

However, it seems we're picking up right after the events of the last film as Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) wanders forlornly through the streets of Haddonfield before being picked up by Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and taken to the hospital. However, Michael (Tyler Mane) is once more on the prowl after the ambulance carrying him gets into a wreck, but not before he comes across an apparition of Mrs. Myers in white with a white horse.  Then he strikes the hospital in scenes very reminiscent of the original Halloween II but then suddenly just as Laurie is about to get the axe, she wakes up...

...and it's a year later...

...and she's living with the Bracketts and has completely changed her personality...

Now, I'm not going to say that Laurie's trauma couldn't have fundamentally changed her personality. After all, people are rather entirely the same person they were after such a life-threatening experience. However, this is more akin to Tobey Maguire's sudden personality change in Spider-Man 3.  This is not "I'm not dark and broody and emo", this "Rob Zombie wanted to put Scout Taylor-Compton in the latest trends from Hot Topic and plaster her walls with posters of his favorite bands". Of course, perhaps this is just to symbolize the fact that Laurie's mental state is slipping...

...what I'm basically saying is, no, her trauma would not have done this.

Speaking of slipping mental states, we see the return of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). He's back being a blood-sucking leech as opposed to the Champion of Good and Right that he was in the original films...and that's pretty much it. He's annoying, concerned about his fame, and he only really gets involved at the very end in a way that does not remotely fit the character that we've seen portrayed on scene at any point through this entire duo of movies.

...oh, and he dies. Spoiler alert. But then, if you saw the first movie, did you really care?

And then there's Michael...who is Michael. And constantly having visions of his dead mother in white and a younger version of himself telling him to prepare to bring Laurie home. But he's pretty consistently Michael, so I suppose that is one thing I can't complain about.

Yes, there are kills. Yes, there are even a few surprisingly tense moments if only to be very, very fleeting. But just that does not a Halloween movie make. The attempts to connect Michael and Laurie through a shared mental illness is a neat idea, and the idea of psychic links aren't exactly new to the series (see Halloween 4 and 5), but it comes out as just being insanely pretentious.

Insanely
 pretentious.

I'm not going to go into how much sense it doesn't make that Laurie has the same hallucinations as Michael near the end, grossly oversimplifying actual mental disorders that real people often suffer. I'm not going to go into how Dr. Loomis making his last minute entry into the plot to try and save the day makes no sense and goes better for the character from the original films than the one here.  I'm not going to go into how trying to homage the final shot from Psycho is utterly and completely pretentious in a film that Psycho is embarrassed to be in the same galaxy with, much less the same room.

What I will do, however, is just say that this film absolutely and positively sucks. It sucks so bad. The fact that this film exists is immensely disrespectful to John Carpenter's original film and a gigantic middle finger to anyone and everyone who has given a damn about the series in general. The Curse of Michael Myers was better than this movie.

Hell, Resurrection was better than this movie.

In short, you should just send both of the Rob Zombie films off to the trash heap and settle down to watch the original film for reasons I have already gone over. If you need more convincing, I can't help you. Don't ruin your brain cells on this. If you see this movie playing anywhere, then - in the words of  Doctor Daniel Challis - you should. "Turn it off! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!"

"STOP IIIIIIIIT!"

Halloween II is now available on DVD from Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, October 23, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Mummies Rising"

Oh, you knew I would have to go into that wretched hive of scum and villainy known as the Xbox Live Arcade. After all, it wouldn't be a proper Halloween without an indie game. So is this one going to be a spooky good time or is it going to be something to run away in fear from? Let's have a look at Mummies Rising.

The game's plot is simplicity itself.  From the game itself  "After the disappearance of an archaeological expedition in an Egyptian tomb, a soldier was sent to find them. His worst nightmare was about to begin...", a nice and rather foreboding set up. Simple, yes, but there have been games that have gone through less, especially in the first-person shooter genre.

However, the errors here are largely in design and mechanics, which drag down what could be a fairly simply, enjoyable concept. It's a first-person shooter, so you have a first person view as you shoot things. Easy enough, but the control is incredibly meh. Apparently your soldier character is continually walking waist-deep in ice cold molasses through the tombs of the ancient pharaohs. You can't move anything remotely resembling fast and turning is so slow that you might as well not even bother.

Which brings me to the environments. The Molasses Soldier is moving through each section of the tomb within a light that seems to move only with him...and hardly more than about five feet from him all around. I'm not kidding when I say this game is dark. This game is dark.  There, you can see I'm not kidding. Really, it's difficult to see anything, including the mummies until they're roughly ten feet from you. You're not going to know when the mummies are coming until it's almost too late, so better have that trigger finger good and ready there, spunky!

The weapons are nice, if a little lacking in diversity. Still, you do have to appreciate the simplicity. Need to re-kill a mummy? Use a gun.  Need to really re-kill a mummy? Use a bigger gun. Of course, the game doesn't let you use every gun on every level, but I'm not going to knock it for that.

That's really all there is to say. Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. And avoid being attacked from behind.

...yeah, no, the simplicity doesn't help. Give it a miss.

Mummies Rising is now available from Rendercode Games for Xbox 360.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

MadCap's Trailer Reactions - "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" (Take Two)

Okay, so this one is a lot less meh.

A lot, lot less meh.

Go watch it, folks. You might need a cigarette. I know I did.

...

Okay, watched? Good. Let's talk about it.

Believe me when I say, there's not a frame of this trailer that I don't like. We see a bit more on newcomers Finn and Rey, as well as spoken dialogue from new baddie Kylo Ren, but that's not really the big draw - at least for me - but I'll get to that.

We get an introduction to Rey, her salvaging from what looks to be the Imperial Star Destroyer wreckage we saw in all the teasers before.  She insists that she's "no one".

Finn, on the other hand, was apparently raised in the new "First Order" and now has nothing to fight for, being stranded on the Not-Tatooine planet shown in the teasers.

We also see a short scene of Kylo Ren monologing to the melted remains of Darth Vader's helmet, promising to "finish what [he] started".

Then we get some nice shots of the Falcon swooping through the deserts of Not-Tatooine (yes, I know it has a name, but I'll just call it Not-Tatooine, thank you) while Rey talks of stories about what happened, presumably of the previous three movies.  And now we come to my favorite part of the trailer: Han Solo himself tells a stunned Rey and Finn: "It's true.  All of it.  The dark side. The Jedi. They're real."

If you've ever seen the original film - A New Hope - you'll remember Han's words about the Force when it's first presented to him, not believing in the "hokey religions".  But it shows that he's grown, he's developed.  He's not only gotten to know the Force, but he's seen it in action.  He's a believer now, far beyond where he was before back in 1977. It's an awesome moment and it makes me really, really hopeful that we'll see more such development for the others.

And, of course, we get other shots of both the First Order and the Resistance (apparently the New Rebellion) on various worlds and our heroes in various situations - including some snowy forest world where Finn ends up in a lightsaber duel with Kylo Ren.  Over the last few seconds, a woman's voiceover narrates: "The Force. It's calling to you. Just let it in..."

Oh, yeah, I'm really, really hoping this doesn't suck.

Indeed, the only thing I don't really care for is the fact that there is very, very little of Luke (just reusing that one shot of him touching his new mechanical hand to R2's dome) and implications that there is no Jedi Order around...which is confusing, considering that Luke has had three decades to get going on that again. In the EU he'd already done that and had enough time to nearly get them all destroyed in the war with the Yuuzhan Vong.

But still, a very, very minor issue in what I really, really, really hope will be an awesome movie. Which we need, since there hasn't been a good Star Wars movie since 1983.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens will premiere in theaters December 18, 2015.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Skin"

"...it wasn't me, I tell you! It was the one-armed man!"
Is there anything more frightening than the loss of one's identity? Even more completely than the crime of Identity Theft, to have all sense of person and individuality completely taken from you.  Erased as though it had never been...or having to suffer for the crimes of those who take your face for their own purposes.  Science fiction and fantasy stories have used it often, with varying degrees of success.  Sometimes, you get a really good one...and sometimes you get Superior Spider-Man.  So where does Skin, the first episode of Supernatural to introduce Skinwalkers, rate? Let's have a look.

After the opening montage of the few plot-related bits in previous episodes, we begin in St. Louis, Missouri.  Members of a police SWAT team enter a house as a woman, who has been tied to a chair and severely tortured, is being menaced by a man with a knife whose face we do not clearly see.  However, when it is clear the police are closing in, he attempts to flee from the home and is caught by the cops.  Told to drop his knife, he turns to the camera...and reveals that he's Dean Winchester!

Actually, as we'll learn, this isn't actually Dean.  But it is one hell of a way to open the episode, giving us the fear that Dean has gone off the deep end.  However, we cut to one week earlier, Sam and Dean are pulling into a gas station and Sam is checking his e-mail, still conversing with some of his friends from Stanford, telling them he's on a roadtrip with Dean...which is technically true, though Dean gives him some lip for effectively lying to them, saying he really can't afford to get close to people.  We'll look at this a bit later, but needless to say, Sam just accuses Dean of being anti-social.

Sam does, however, get the plot of the day from an e-mail via his friend Rebecca Warren, a friend of his from Stanford.  It seems her brother, Zack, has been arrested for a murder that he could not have possibly committed.  Though Dean is reluctant to go back four hundred miles to St. Louis (not thinking that it's their kind of problem), Sam apparently convinces him and they head off, arriving a Rebecca's front door...and we see that she's the woman from the cold opening.

Oh, boy...

Once inside, she relates the facts of the case to them.  Zack says that he came home to find his girlfriend, Emily, tied to a chair and severely beaten up, so he called the police...who then arrested him.  Apparently, video footage from outside his apartment shows that he entered his apartment at 10:30, which Rebecca says is impossible, since Zack was with her until at least after midnight.  Sam practices his Bluff skill to convince Rebecca that Dean's a cop so they can  take a look at the crime scene.

They head over there and find the place wrecked, as you'd expect.  However, Sam and Dean don't really find anything of note as Rebecca tells them a story about how their house was broken into a few weeks ago and some clothing was stolen - specifically Zack's clothes - which the police didn't put too much stock into.  Nothing of note to this particular case comes up, however, until Dean notices the next door neighbor's dog barking like mad at the house - something with Rebecca says never really happened, considering how gentle the dog used to be.  Dogs being affected by the supernatural is something, as Sam points out to Dean in a sidebar, not uncommon.

Dean still denies that this is their kind of thing, but he figures they ought to check out the security footage...just in case.

Lucky for them, Rebecca swiped it from the lawyers at the first opportunity!

...how convenient!

As she takes them to see it, we get a transition via a photograph of Sam, Rebecca, and Zack, fading up on Zack's face as he sits on a bench watching some apartment buildings. He observes a borderline amorous couple with the husband leaving for work,  Zack taking special note of the woman and a dark smirk coming to his lips before his irises become an eerie, glassy white surrounding jet black pupils...
Well, we all know what face that is...
Checking the camera footage, Sam and Dean find something similar on "Zack" - a camera flare that makes his eyes appear all white.  They theorize as to what it could be, perhaps some kind of doppelganger, but they definitely know that this is their kind of thing.

Elsewhere, the amorous man returns home to find his wife in a position identical to that of Rebecca in the cold open. When her gag is removed, she begs him not to hurt her anymore.  He hears something break in the next room and heads out to have some quality time with himself...namely an exact duplicate of himself meeting him and striking him over the head with a baseball bat.

The next morning, Sam and Dean head down to Zack's apartment (at 5:30 in the morning, to Dean's laments), where Sam has a hunch that he wants to test out - since the killer didn't go out the front door, they had to go out another way.  They find some smeared blood on a power pole, but the trail ends right about there.  There's no time to worry about that, however, as an ambulance gliding by leads Sam and Dean to the scene of the most recent murder.

And yes, as you'd imagine, it's the same story. The guy was supposedly driving home on his business trip, and thus could not have been there. They come to the conclusion its a shapeshifter. However, there's still the problem of where it went since - like at Zack's house - the trail just stops.  Dean, though, brings up that (much like the Fourth Doctor does in the Doctor Who episode "Robot") there's only one more direction left to go - down.

Okay, so the Doctor said up, but sue me.

Thus, they go into the sewer and find shed skin - theorizing that the shifter tears off its flesh in order to shift.  With this proven, they head back to the Impala to break out the silver bullets...only to be called by Rebecca, who has seen through their ruse (or, rather, her lawyers have) and knows that Dean is not a cop, telling them to drop it now in spite of Sam's efforts to try and talk her down. We also get Dean telling Sam he really just needs to disconnect from his "normal" friends. Again, more on that later.
"Who throws out half a pizza?"

They head down into the sewers to track the shifter, They find some bile and some discarded clothing before it jumps them, the pair giving chase after it attacks Dean.  Back on street level, they split up to cover more ground.  Eventually, Sam and Dean reunite after neither finding anything. However, when a car forces them to cross the street separately (Sam going first) we see Dean's eyes react to the headlight of passing car by turning that eerie white.

Sam and Shifter!Dean head back to the Impala, where Sam quickly quizzes it on something their Dad hunted to check and make certain that it's him.  The Shifter gets it right, but makes a fatal mistake when it catches the keys to the Impala with the wrong hand.  Despite its best efforts to convince Sam otherwise, it's forced to attack him and render him unconscious.

In the sewer, Sam is tied up and the Shifter taunts him about some of Dean's true feelings about Sam - namely that he's jealous of Sam for having run off to college, while Dean had to stick around with John.  Deep down, the Shifter says, Dean's jealous because while Sam can have friends and be normal, Dean is a freak and knows that everyone's going to leave him eventually.

Mary. Sam. John. They're all gone.

Like I said, more on that to come.  However, Sam isn't buying any of it (or, at least, is keeping focused on the mission) and tries to discern where the real Dean is.  The Shifter, however, communicates his desire to do some crossbreeding with Rebecca before leaving to go meet her.  She is, as you'd expect, less than happy to see him but does allow him in.

Back in the sewer, Sam finds that Dean is in the same place as Sam is (how convenient!) they snark for a bit before they start getting loose to break out.

Back at Rebecca's, the Shifter is telling her the whole story...of himself. As well as revealing that Sam and Dean are hunters and go after things like shapeshifters.  It seems to be going well until the Shifter gets called a freak by Rebecca - something that clearly pains it.

Back in the sewer, as they get out of their restraints, Sam brings up the idea that the Shifter needs them (or, more specifically Dean) alive so it can "download" their memories, hence why it knew so much about Dean and Sam specifically.  They bust out, planning to call the police...in spite of the fact they'll effectively be sicking the cops on "Dean".
"No, Sammy...I am your brother..."

The coup de grace occurs back at Rebecca's, where the Shifter talks about himself (via Dean), feeling alone and just wanting to be loved, which Rebecca unfortunately interprets as "Dean" coming on to her...and she is less than pleased. Outraged, he tires her up, leading into the cold open but now with us able to see "Dean's" face. And it plays out as we saw up to the Shifter being cornered by the cops...but this time with it fighting off some of the cops before escaping, though clearly not without some negative repercussions.

In the sewers, the Shift stumbles into its lair and begins to shed its skin in a truly impressive and really, really gross scene where its bones cackle, its teeth fall out, its fingernails fall off, and even its very flesh starts tearing itself apart as it heals from its wounds.

The repercussions for Sam and Dean, however, come via the Television of Exposition (apparently on loan after its days on Sliders), where they learn there's a want out for Dean. Dean is pissed, but Sam points out that they have no weapons and no plan...until they theorize that the Shifter drove the Impala over there, and thus all their stuff is still there.  The cops, though, arrive and they're forced to flee...Sam taking the fall because they don't actually have anything on him.

Sam warns him, before he flees, to not go into the sewers. However, this is Dean Winchester and we know he's not going to take this sitting down as he demonstrates by getting the Impala afterwards and heading into the sewers and finding...Rebecca, all tied up and with no place to go.

Sam, meanwhile, has gone to Rebecca's place and unfortunately tells "her" the details before she knocks him out with a wine bottle.  Back in the sewers, Rebecca relates that she was attacked and woke up here just in time to see "Dean" turn into her.  Dean gets her out and they head back to her place, hoping to get to Sam in time. Back there,  "Dean" has shifted back into his preferred skin for the episode and secured Sam, planning to off him and pin the whole thing on Dean.
"I'm gonna make this knife disappear!"
Of course, when the Shifter gets a little lazy, Sam gets the drop on him...and we get our first big Sam and Dean fight of the series.  While it's not really Dean, he has his mentality and fighting techniques, so it's as good as.  And it is a pretty brutal fight as they throw one another through furniture and use various items as improvised weapons.  However, because the Shifter is a supernatural creature with enhanced strength, the tide quickly turns on Sam...which Dean deals with by shooting it twice in the heart with silver.

While Rebecca checks on Sam, Dean retrieves his amulet from the Shifter's corpse.

And we get our wrap up.  Sam promising to keep in touch with Rebecca, though it may not be for a long while.  Zack, however, has been released...apparently, the police think this "Dean Winchester" guy is responsible for the murders, and he's dead now since his corpse was found in Rebecca's home. As they drive off, Dean expresses disappointment that Sam just can't be normal, but Sam tells him that he knew deep down he was never normal even when he was at Stanford.  Dean also expresses some disappointment that he'll have to skip out on his own funeral...

Skin is actually a pretty good episode.  It touches on the themes of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection - largely for Sam and Dean but also using the Shifter as a living example of those traits.  Consider, in the beginning of the episode,  Dean mentions that Sam should really cut himself off from the people who don't know about their world. It's not out of any malice or irritation at the thought of having people like that in their lives, it's simply because that's how their lives are and that "normal" people aren't often able to handle what they do.

Although with Dean, as see with the Shifter going through his memories, it goes even deeper. Already, he's largely disconnected with the world. He does his best not to get close to people in his work, and he's only known a very select few people in his life that he's had any regular contact with and he is losing those few people.  Like I said before: Mary. Sam. John. Everyone he knows, everyone he cares about, has left him at some point in his life, and Dean fears - deep down - that one day he is going to be alone.

The Shifter's words to Rebecca while its trying to seduce her can indeed be seen as the Shifter having some level of sympathy for Dean's situation, seeing as the two come from similar backgrounds. Feeling themselves to be freaks compared to the rest of society and, in the end, just wanting a hug and someone to love them. It's really a rather sad thing and shows, much like the bits in Dead in the Water, that there is more to his character than the rather simplistic gun-toting, lady-pleasing, snark-quipping man that his persona would have you think he is.

The Shifter him/her/itself is a character with can empathize with.  The background it gives about being born "human, but different" and something that was shunned by society is tragic and gives plenty of motivation for it to want human contact...though, unlike many fans of Freddy Krueger, I find it incredibly difficult to sympathize with someone who goes into psychopathic rage at the first sign of rejection and kills people.  Sorry, tortures and kills people.

However, there are a few problems with the episode - namely Zack, who we never actually get to see besides in the photograph on Rebecca's fridge. Sure, we do get that one scene of the Shifter watching the amorous couple, but that's it. His actor doesn't even have any lines. While it would have, of course, been impractical for Sam and Dean to visit him in jail (particularly after Dean gets on the St. Louis PD's Most Wanted List), it would have been nice for his character to have contributed something to the story instead of just having everything he "said" being told them by another character.

Also, like with episodes before, Shifters here are a little different than they are in later episodes, but that can be chalked up to the early days of the show still being in effect as well as the Shifter not really knowing anything about its own origins, especially considering what we see of the race and various others in later seasons.

So it has a few flaws that can be looked past but, over all, the episode is very enjoyable and a very nice character piece on the inner workings of Dean's mind. Next week, Sam and Dean have to not turn on the lights and pick up the vanishing hitchhiker and acknowledge that humans can lick too because the calls are coming from inside the house!!!

...oh, y'know...the Hook Man. The Hook Man works, too...

Supernatural is the property of the CW and Warner Bros.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, October 19, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Halloween" (2007)

This movie sucks.

I'm sorry, that was a little harsh. It's at least far, far better than it's sequel, which we'll be getting to next week. But this is pretty bad. I know people were super excited about the return of Michael Myers from sequel degradation - last having been seen in a Haddonfield morgue awakening after being burned alive. Hell, I was one of them. The original Halloween is one my favorite movies as I explained last year. So, naturally, you'd expect that a return to form for the man in the white William Shatner mask would be something to be excited about.

And it was...until this film premiered.

Though a lot of people really liked it, because they think Rob Zombie is some kind of visionary director who totally revitalized the genre because he's clearly the Master of Horror. If this film is any indication, he's a fan of John Carpenter who has a modern, darker edge on things at best. This film is everything that is wrong with modern horror films thrown into one and with the crusty shell of the original Halloween draped over it.

The film begins with young Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) living in the worst possible environment for a child - a Rob Zombie film! That isn't a joke, the place is the white trailer trash situation you see in a lot of in the - what I like to call - "Blue Collar Horror" genre. He lives with his mother (Sherri Moon Zombie), her mother's abusive boyfriend (William Forsythe), his sister Judith (Hanna R. Hall), and the little baby Angel Myers or "Boo", as Michael likes to call her.

To play Devil's Advocate, Zombie does a really, really good job of painting for us a picture of a reason for Michael's descent into his psychotic murder frenzy. His mother's boyfriend is abusive, crass, and constantly drunk, his sister is an ass, and his mother is largely absentee due to having to work at the strip club to support her family. Really, besides his mother, the only person that Michael shows any affection for is Boo. The situation, particularly with the mother's boyfriend, is just terrible. Really, if someone doesn't go crazy from this situation, they're already crazy.

And crazy Michael is determined to be when his school principal discovers a dead cat and pictures of several animal corpses, forcing him to call in Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). However, before any psychotherapy can happen, Michael has to kick up the body count. And that he does with taking out not only his sister as in the original, but also a bully from school, his sister's boyfriend, and the mother's boyfriend in a clean sweep.

From there, Michael goes to Smith's Grove after being convicted of first-degree murder. Loomis attempts to reach him, but the years keeping him locked up are many more than seven, so much so that it grates on Michael and he begins to become more and more withdrawn from the world, taking to making papier-mâché masks and being nearly comatose. After a particularly grizzly incident with a nurse and a metal fork (seriously, a metal fork? In an asylum?!), it becomes clear that Michael's condition will never improve and his mother commits suicide.

Got all that? Good, because it was completely unnecessary as the original demonstrated in roughly it's first ten minutes.

No, this is not me nitpicking. This is a genuine complaint given that John Carpenter saw absolutely no reason to explain why Michael went crazy and hacked his sister apart with a kitchen knife, he just did it. It was very sudden and a massive shock when the mask was pulled off of the first person view (something very lacking in this movie) to reveal that a six-year-old child had committed a grizzly murder. That made the shock of the fact that there really was no motive hit all the harder. Here...there's really no question as to why Michael snapped.

But with that settled, the last half hour of the film is basically a retread of the original Halloween.  We get introduced to Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), little Angel Myers all grown up and with no knowledge of her past. And Laurie pretty much shows herself to be nothing like Jamie Lee Curtis in the original, most obviously when one of the first things she does onscreen is use her finger to fornicate a bagel in front of her parents.

No, I'm not joking.

Whereas in the original Laurie was a sweet, kind, demure girl, this Laurie is just...over the top. She's uncouth, she's raunchy, and really just what you would expect from a slasher film victim rather than the survivor.  Of course, her friends Annie (Danielle Harris) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe) are even more exaggerated from their original versions, which would make her look tame by comparison...except with a franchise as long-running and memorable as Halloween, we are given to remember the original characters as well.

Sure, in the original Annie and Lynda were nothing to write home about, but even their moral degradation had its limits. Then again, maybe I'm just not with the in-crowd on how teenagers in our modern society work.

And while we're on the subject of being so severely out-of-character, we have Samuel Loomis being taken over by Malcolm McDowell. Instead of spending eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, Loomis goes from being a white knight against Michael's evil in the originals to being a bloodsucking, fame-hungry sociopath who is hilariously egotistical and hocks his book on Michael at every opportunity.

A far cry from Donald Pleasance's portrayal, who saw stopping Michael as more important than anything for all the innocent lives he would take.

Of course, this film doesn't show this character trait nearly as much as the sequel does, but it's still something to note and still something that clearly shows that Rob Zombie was happy to dismiss retaining anything John Carpenter-esque long before he ever made Halloween II.

Basically, these are not characters you want to see live. I've spoken before on how a little developing of characters in these movies - à la Aliens or the original Predator - goes a long way to actually making us care. It doesn't take up all that much time, and it actually gives the audience some investment in the characters. Most horror films don't bother doing that, however. After all, people are just there to fill a body count quota and we're not expected to find any of them memorable or relate to them. They're the main course.

This film, however, does the opposite. You want to see almost everyone that Michael kills off killed long before the point where he does. This is not good for this film at all. Then again, maybe I'm just being completely off-base and this is some sort of artsy statement on the nature of horror films giving us characters we just want to see bumped off because that's what they're there for. Though I really doubt that's remotely what Zombie had in mind for this.

And that's not to say there isn't some good talent in here. You have Danny Trejo playing an orderly at Smith's Grove who bonds with Michael (and is really the only death you actually feel something for),  Brad Dourif playing waaaay below his level of talent as Sheriff Brackett, Clint Howard has a short scene giving this film some credit in Smith's Grove, and even Malcolm McDowell makes me forget he was in Star Trek: Generations in a few scenes. But the fact is that good acting could not have saved this film.

This film is akin to those Power Rangers kids' Halloween costumes you can find with the muscles "built" into the suit. It's bloated, only vaguely looking like the thing it's supposed to be while having none of the real substance. It's clear that Rob Zombie did have some love for the original - having done some of the score himself for this one and it shows many cues and homages to the original, as well as in some of the shots - but that gets bogged down under all the things that make modern horror films very stupid and nearly unwatchable for me.

But you want to know the saddest thing about this movie? The thing that drives a hot poker right through my gut and burns my heart to ash over this franchise? The movie was a hit...it was a box office success instead of being relegated to Bad Movie Hell where it belongs. Because people were all "Oh, Rob Zombie, he's so great! Best director ever! Absolutely perfect for this!" The critics hated it, sure...but who the hell even listens to critics? So, naturally, because they saw nothing but dollar signs, Dimension greenlit a second film.

Unlike this film, that one has no defenders. That one is quite possibly the worst of all the Halloween movies, and yes I am actually counting Resurrection in that. And guess what we're looking over next week?

Buckle up, kids.

Halloween is now available from Dimension Films and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wherever movies are sold.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, October 16, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Bloodmoon"

The time of the Hunter has come...

Bloodmoon was the third and final expansion pack to Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.  You might remember that I reviewed Skyrim's Dragonborn DLC, which is in many ways a sequel to this one. Being that they take place on the same island, albeit without about two hundred years of difference removing them. And Bloodmoon itself has one particular facet about it that most people remember it fondly for and I know that most people are going to know it for and probably know why it's the main reason I saved this for now instead of doing it right after I did the write up for Tribunal a few weeks ago.

But to get to that point, one has to start the trip to the island of Solstheim. And how does one do that? Simple, talk to almost any NPC on the island of Vvardenfell and they'll tell you about an even smaller island off the coast, in the political territory of Skyrim. Here, the Cyrodiilic Empire are once more the outsiders in a land that's heavily steeped in both Dunmer and Nord lore (though largely the latter). The Skaal people still live on Solstheim and honor the old ways of their people, and are keepers of knowledge about greater happenings in their land, namely that of the Bloodmoon Prophecy.

Hircine, the Daedric Prince of the Hunt, is coming and he's bringing with him his hounds - the werewolves, which were the biggest draw in this game. Terrifying engines of destruction that seek nothing more than to hunt down and tear any living thing it comes across alive. In game terms, the player will turn into a beast that cannot use equipped items (apparel or weapons), cannot access inventory, has the overwhelming desire to kill an NPC, and will be either shunned or (more likely) outright attacked by NPCs upon being witnessed.

Have fun!

It's actually not too bad, if a little disorienting for people who aren't familiar with the controls. If you've played Skyrim before as a werewolf, then get ready because this is quite different. For starters, the transformation isn't voluntary - you shift every night for a certain amount of hours. If you shift in front of an NPC, they'll know who and what you are, and you'll get 1000 septims put on your head. Pretty heavy stuff. Of course, the alternative to that is being virtually unstoppable against anyone who doesn't have silver of Daedric weapons.

That's the big draw, but what's the meat of the thing? After all, werewolves alone does not a game make. Bloodmoon adds new weapons and armor, a gaggle of new creatures to fight, and a brand new land to run around. While it's not as big as the isle of Vvardenfell, but it is spacious and is a nice open area in comparison to the admittedly much more cramped locales available in Tribunal's Mournhold.

And unlike Tribunal, Bloodmoon's Main Quest doesn't immediately connect with anything of the Nerevarine stuff. So there's no real continuity errors if you leave Seyda Neen immediately and head for Fort Frostmoth.  Of course, if you go there at first level - to borrow a chatphrase from LordKat - you're going to die. A lot. Pretty much, unless you're rocking god mode, you're not ready for Bloodmoon until you're a decent level (I recommend between fifteen to twenty), and decently equipped on top of that. Once you are, though, feel free to hop right over and see what's what. So nuts.

So yes, not exactly a horror game beyond the terrifying dread of the Beast within. But still, it's an enjoyable expansion that, like Tribunal before it, is basically just adding seasoning to the already delicious gumbo that is Morrowind.  End of.

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Bloodmoon is now available from Bethesda Softworks for PC and Xbox.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

MadCap's Comic Reviews - "Doctor Strange #1"

There are forces far, far beyond the realm of mortal understanding.  There are malignant powers out in the ether of creation so grand and terrible that even the deepest, darkest nightmares of humanity will not dare acknowledge that such horrors are possible.  When those entities come to close to the realm of humanity, they are met by a champion.  But - not unlike the universe of a certain Gallifreyan Time Lord - when the Marvel universe needs a champion, they don't call on the Avengers or the X-Men or any other such team.

When the gates of Hell burst open and the pillars of Heaven shake...

...when the whole of creation stands on the precipice of oblivion....

...when the very fabric of reality is being torn asunder....

...what you need...is a Doctor.

Doctor Stephen Strange, once a brilliant neurosurgeon who lost the use of his fine motor functions in a terrible accident, sought a cure and instead became something far greater - the Sorcerer Supreme of the Earth Dimension.  He is also one of my favorite characters in all of fiction ever.

This is actually Strange's second time having his own series, though it's been quite some time since he was last on his own.  For many years, he was a secondary character in Spider-Man (which is where I first came across him) and has been shipped around to various books in the Marvel universe since his series ended at some point in the 90s. But now, largely thanks to the fact that he's got a movie coming out next year, he's back! And it's about time the Doctor starting making house calls once again!

And he's off to a good start by saving the soul of a young man from a pack of demons who have possessed him while narrating about his backstory, catching up new readers with the cliff notes in a quick and concise way. Kudos to the creative team on using the older comic panels on the first page, really helps set the mood of the old Lee/Ditko stories of the 1960s, which I think is very faithfully homaged by the artwork of Christopher Bachalo and Timothy Townsend in this issue.

Also of note is the story, which is setting up the storyline in the right way. The good Doctor goes to the Bar With No Doors (not to be confused with the Bar With No Name), and learns from other sorcerers - namely Doctor Voodoo, Shaman, and Scarlet Witch - that more extra-dimensional occurrences like the boy being possessed by a whole pack of demons seem to be becoming alarmingly more common. Something is coming, though none of them know just what it might be. But still, it seems enough of a threat for supernatural creatures to be moving into the Earth dimension to avoid it, which speaks volumes.

We also do, in the Bar with No Doors, get some insight into Strange's psyche.  Keep in mind, while the rest of Marvel has (for the most part) operates on a floating timescale where stories in the past happened more recently (since trying to have a continuity that began in the 1939 stretch out realistically into the present with nobody aging in the meantime would be absolutely insane), Doctor Strange is one of the few that is exempt from this.  All of his stories, so far as I've read, are meant to be taking place on the publishing date...other hero and villain guest stars aside.

Immortal because of his duty as the Sorcerer Supreme, this is a man who has spent fifty-two years in constant battle with forces beyond mortal comprehension. It's rather akin to Linkara's analysis of Tommy Oliver in Power Rangers: Dino Thunder in his History of the Power Rangers series (which you can view here, it's really good stuff). Doctor Strange has been single-handedly fighting this battle against cosmic powers that would mow down the Avengers, the X-Men, and every other Marvel team for a half century.  But it's a war that really doesn't know any end.  As the old saying goes "there's always a bigger fish".

Having a duty that involves constantly fighting Cthulhu and pals on a regular basis has had a deep, resounding psychological effects on Strange. He mentions at one point how he's "vomited up pieces of [his] soul" and can't sleep for more than a few hours every night as proof that he's more than paid the cost of using magic. Even with how debilitating this can be to a person, Stephen still maintains his duty and seeks out the damned horrors that plague humanity, still chooses this life despite the fact that it has been slowly (or not so slowly) tearing away his own humanity piece by piece over the many years he's been doing it.

Mind you, I could just be reading too much into things, but I'd be very surprised if that was not what was intended by that scene and I really enjoy that it was addressed about the character.

And, to close things out, while the Doctor deals with a new task entirely, we get some scenes of a new enemy for him. In the "13th Dimension", a sorcerer by the name of Szandor Zoso tries to get a message out to someone, anyone of his attackers - the Empirikul. Unfortunately, he doesn't get far before he's attacked by some wolves with spiky, metallic harnesses on their backs and a group of those robots from the Doctor Who episode "The Girl Who Waited", led by a figured cloaked in black known only as "the Imperator".

And seriously, this guy is just badass from the jump.  He speaks all of three lines of dialogue, stops Zoso's message by blowing a hole in the wall, and then simply walks out to leave the clean up to his minions as Zoso's home burns to the ground from the explosion. If ever you needed a perfect introduction to your villain, this is definitely it. Kudos!

This is a triumphant return for Doctor Strange to a solo series and a wonderful set up for a series that I have high, high hopes for. Bravo!

...don't screw it up.

Doctor Strange #1 is now available from Marvel Comics wherever fine comic books are sold.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Bloody Mary"

What's that in the mirror? In the corner of your eye?
Y'know that whole thing about "even if you don't believe in it, you probably shouldn't be screwing around with it?"

Welcome to this episode in a nutshell.

We begin with four girls of preteen age playing a game of Truth or Dare, one of them being dared to go into the bathroom and say "Blood Mary" three times, segueing into a discussion of the various versions of the Bloody Mary legend. One of the girls goes in with only a candle for light.  She says the name twice, the candle begins to flicker, but she keeps on saying it a third time...whereupon her friends start to beat on her door because their grade A assholes.  The girl, Lily, comes out and they have a laugh, though her father arrives and asks her to keep it down.

Mr. Shoemaker, as he's called, is suddenly stalked by Sadako from The Ring, who appears only in mirrors...okay, yes, it's Blood Mary, but the style is (according to the showrunners at the time) admittedly done up to look like The Ring and the Japanese original film Ringu, so bonus points to them on that.  At the very least, it does look scary.  She appears only in mirrors at first, as per the legends.

Mr. Shoemaker, while taking some medicine, notices veins suddenly becoming more prominent in his face.  Downstairs, Lily's older sister sneaks in past her curfew and comes upstairs to find...a puddle of blood gushing out from under the bathroom door.  Opening the door, whatever she finds within makes her scream.

The teaser ends with Sam in bluescale, dreaming of Jessica's death as her voice demands to know "Why, Sam?".  However, he is woken up by Dean.  They're in Toledo, Ohio and have come to investigate the Shoemaker death.  Posing as med students, they bribe their way in and see the corpse.  The eyes have been liquified, and he suffered from intense cerebral bleeding.  They check the police report, too, and Sam brings up that it could very well just be a freak medical accident.

Dean reminds him of the universe that they're in.  They decide to go talk to the daughter.

They arrive smack in the middle of a wake, awkwardness abounding.  Donna, the older sister, is questioned by Sam and Dean with the usual stuff...and then Lily injects, insisting that it all happened because of her, because she summoned Blood Mary.  The boys check the house, discussing the Blood Mary legend and Sam saying that John never found evidence that there was any truth to it. They also mention how it's a strange variation on things for Shoemaker to be the one who died, seeing as Lily was the one to say the words.

The woman who was comforting Donna earlier comes up and gives the boys the third degree, not believing their cover story.  Sam confesses that they're investigating, and gives her their number.

More discussion of Blood Mary follows, the boys hitting the books.

Charlie, Donna's friend, is talking to another of their friends, Jill.  She teases her for thinking that Blood Mary could have killed Shoemaker and even goes into her bathroom to say the chant, ending with a scream and a laugh because asshole.  Charlie is naturally peeved as Jill is visited by the Sadako in her mirrors.  In one of them, as she gazes at her own reflection, her eye begins to bleed. As her reflection taunts her about a boy she killed.  She dies as her reflection looks on.
Charlie became the envy of every fangirl in a single scene.
Then, it's back to the bluescale dreams of Sam Winchester as Jessica once more burns on a ceiling and demands answers of Sam before he awakes. We get some brotherly snark as Sam deflects about his dream, focusing on the story.  Dean, however, has found nothing to match to the legend while Sam was sleeping.  He thinks that whatever's happening has nothing to do with Mary, it's just a coincidence...until they get a phone call from Charlie, who tells them of Jill's fate.  Jill did indeed die in the exact same matter as Mr. Shoemaker...after saying "Bloody Mary".

They manage to enlist her help, and Charlie helps them get into Jill's home to check around. In Jill's room, Sam and Dean break out the nightvision cameras and go checking with the EMF detector. On bathroom mirror, Sam finds markings and - with a black light - pulls away some of the backing to reveal some handprints and a name "Gary Bryman".  Charlie says she has no idea who that is.  In the next scene, however, Sam has hit the books and determined who Gary is...or rather, was...an eight year old boy who was killed in a hit and run two years ago.

Charlie recognizes it because of the vehicle mentioned...Jill's vehicle.

Back at the Shoemaker's place, Sam and Dean check the bathroom mirror and find a similarly hidden name - Linda Shoemaker.  They confront Donna, who says that her mother OD'd on sleeping pills and wants to hear nothing to the contrary.  The three begin to see links, since both Jill and Mr. Shoemaker had apparently murdered.  Dean begins checking through every database, even national, hoping to find some kind of connection.

Sam and Dean theorize that Mary, or whatever she is, punishes people with a very dark secret who gaze into the mirrors.  Eventually, thanks to the magic of the writers wanting the characters to advance in the plot, Dean hits on something - the death of a "Mary Worthington" in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where a handprint identical to those found at both Jill's and the Shoemakers' home was found at the scene, pressed into a mirror.

At Fort Wayne, Sam and Dean speak to an ex-cop who had worked on the case in question.  He questions their backstory of being reporters, but Sam - being the badass bookworm that he is - is able to make the story float with the facts that they've garnered thus far.  With that, the cop reveals his own personal view of what happened, taking out some old files for them.  He mentions some of the writing in the mirror near the handprint "Tre", and that it likely points to a man who had been a surgeon at the time by the name of Trevor Samson, who Mary was having an affair with.

Unfortunately, they were unable to prove it was him.

However, Mary was not buried - she was cremated.  Her mirror, however, was not destroyed or kept in an evidence lock up...but returned to her family...

We return to Donna and Charlie, Charlie trying to insist to Donna that Sam and Dean were only trying to help.  And Donna, being an infinite dumbass, says "Bloody Mary" three times to the mirror in their high school bathroom...which oddly causes Charlie to be stalked by Sadako.  In class, Charlie actually witnesses Bloody Mary in the mirrors, freaks out, and flees.

Back in the Impala, Sam has just wrapped up with Mary's brother, who is no longer in possession of the mirror, having sold it a week ago to an antique shop in Toledo.  There is some talk about the old urban myths about mirrors trapping spirits before Dean comes up with the plausible solution - find the mirror and smash it.

Lucky for him, the bad luck won't kick in for about five more seasons anyway.

They get a call from Charlie and rush to aid her, covering up every mirror and reflective surface in the motel.  Sam tries to calm her, even doing his best to assuage her fears that she's going to die.  Dean, on the other hand, questions her...not about how she came to be tormented by Mary, but why she is being tormented by Mary.  She has a backstory about a boyfriend who she got into a fight and he threatened to kill himself, her telling him to do so before leaving.  She feels horrible about it, obviously, not having believed that he'd actually do it.
"Sammy...so much porn! So fast!"
Her causing the murder directly or not, Charlie has a secret and thus is a target by Mary.  Sam comes up with the idea to summon Mary to her mirror and destroy that one.  Dean questions how that would even work, since she seems to be jumping around to all sorts of different mirrors.  Sam insists that Mary will come after him, and Dean finally decides to confront him about Jessica...namely that Sam blames himself for her death.  He tries to insist that it wasn't his fault and he shouldn't blame himself, though Sam cryptically says that he could have warned her and that Dean doesn't know the whole story.  Though Dean insists that he shouldn't do this, Sam is adamant.

Thus, the pair break into the antiques shop.  Inside, they find lots and lots of mirrors and begin to search for the right one...unaware that they've tripped a silent alarm.  They do find the mirror, however, and it's time to get to work.  Sam does the chant and prepares a crowbar...and we cut to commercial.

However, I have Netflix, so...

We come back, and Dean notices the lights of a cop car that just pulled up, instructing Sam to smash anything that moves before going to deal with it, rolling the heck out of his Bluff check, but the cops aren't buying it. He knocks them  out and heads back in.  In the mean time Sam, on the other hand, takes Dean's advice to heart and starts taking out mirrors while Mary torments him. True to form, his reflection begins to torment him over Jessica's death as his eye begins to bleed.  The secret is revealed: Sam's nightmares about Jessica aren't new, he's been having them for days before her death and he did nothing about them.

But because we need to finish up the episode, Dean drops in at the opportune moment to smash the mirror into a bunch of tiny pieces.  While Sam is not in the best of conditions, he's alive, and the pair start to leave...though not before Sadako comes through for the final showdown, inflicting pain on both the boys and seemingly gaining the upper hand before Dean grabs a mirror and shows her her reflection in it and her power works on her as well - the secret that she killed all those people making her dissolve into CGI jelly that Dean then drops the mirror down on.

Dean figures they have around 600 years bad luck after all this. And he's right, but it'll take about five years to star-oh, wait, I already did that joke.

Needless to say, we get the wrap up.  Charlie is free to live without fear of Mary's attacks and Sam tells her she ought to forgive herself for her boyfriend's death, saying that sometimes bad things just happen, some advice that Dean hopes Sam will take to heart.  Dean also asks to hear Sam's secret, but he keeps it to himself, and sees an apparition of Jessica on a street corner that then disappears...it is clear this is something Sam will carry with him for a long, long while...

Bloody Mary effectively serves as the first Sam-centric episode since Pilot. Supernatural does have, for better or for worse, a sort of formula to it.  Some episodes are Sam-centric, e.g. they focus on Sam and his subplots for the season, and some are Dean-centric, doing the same for him and it is generally quite easy to point out which one is which.  And yes, this does - to the show's credit - continue even into the Post-Kripke era.  It's a great tool that allows us to see from the two different perspectives of the brothers throughout the trials and tribulations that they face.
Okay Sam, the mirror is prone. Roll your attack.
Blood Mary is the first continuation of Sam's character arc from Pilot, wherein we learn more about Jessica's death - namely the prophetic dreams about it beforehand that Sam was having, which will be developed on later in the season, and Sam not being able to forgive himself for her death.  As I say, we'll get into that more later.  As for the episode itself, it's pretty good.  While defeating Mary by showing her her own reflection might seem a little cheesy, keep in mind that we're still in the early days of the show and that the rules for ghosts have not been written in stone quite yet.  It's also several steps above the usual "salt and burn" response we get in later episodes and seasons.

So yes, definitely give this one a watch.  Next week, we're going to get introduced to a new creature type and an event will  occur that will haunt Sam and Dean for years to come.

...seriously, just ask any Supernatural fan.  The writers will not let this one go, even after everyone else - including Sam and Dean - has long since stopped caring about it.

Supernatural is the property of the CW and Warner Bros.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, October 12, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Friday the 13th" (2009)

I'll just go ahead and get this out of the way now  - I love this movie.

No, it's not the set up for a joke, I really do. Well, okay, love is strong. I really, however, do enjoy it. This is honestly a good reboot. I know that's gonna completely shock everyone, but I'm being genuine when I say that this movie is just about perfect as far as Friday the 13th gets. A full on reboot of the Friday the 13th franchise (maybe), again given to us by Platinum Dunes and New Line, and it actually comes out amazingly well.

...no, really, I'm not joking. This is actually better in my mind than the Nightmare remake we covered last week.

Set in the ever infamous Crystal Lake, we have a short scene in the beginning of Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor) tormenting campers before getting her head chopped off - which was covered, so this isn't a spoiler - before a little boy finds a locket and hears her last words "Kill for mother".

And with that, we get right into the killing as a group of twenty somethings comes to Crystal Lake with the intention of partaking in the usual horror film activities of premarital sex, drinking, and partaking in a whole field of wacky weedus! But a man with a grain sack over his head (yes, Jason did not always have a hockey mask) and a machete is all too happy to set them back on the paths of righteousness and goodness by killing them all to death...y'know, like you do in such situations.

Weeks later, Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki) comes to Crystal Lake looking for his sister - one of those that were a victim of Jason. Also in attendance to be chopped up by Crystal Lake's resident human hibachi chef are a group of kids on a summer retreat to a lake house and are pretty much all there to partake in the aforementioned activities leading into hanging a "Please Kill Me!" sign around their necks. If you've seen any horror movies, this should be no surprise.

From there, it's a weird-hybrid of the first four original Friday movies, and I haven't seen a lot of criticism levied against this one as much as the Nightmare one. What few critiques I have seen for this, I agree with even less than I do those for that one. One of them being that Jason's not remotely smart enough to set snares and traps the way he does in a very Rambo-esque style. My answer to that is simple: Jason's a hunter.

He's a predator, and the humans have entered into his domain. It makes sense that he would adapt and learn these tricks to have a better grasp over his lands than those that trespass. Mind you, that doesn't mean I even pretend to know where the network of tunnels under the camp came from. One of the superfluous characters in the beginning mentions a mine but, other than that, there's nothing said about an old mine near Crystal Lake. They are pure plot convenience, so far as I can figure out, though it is nice that they actually bothered to try and work out an explanation for how Jason seems to get everywhere so quickly and without being seen.

The mines themselves also have a few "blink and you miss it" cameo items from previous Friday movies - such as Mark's wheelchair from Friday the 13th Part 2 - among other items from Jason's victims that make it difficult to say if this film is a straight up reboot or if it's merely a sequel that can be placed in at some point.  Then again, it also may just be fanservice given the fact that a great deal of this film homages the original four. Still, it was a nice touch worth pointing out.

Beyond that, of course, it's pretty much a cookie cutter, paint by numbers Friday film. It's exactly what you expect and would want, even in terms of body count. So even the "they changed everything" complaint they have for Nightmare doesn't really work, because besides bothering to explain Jason's super teleportation powers and giving him enough instinct to pull a Predator, nothing has really changed from the originals. Jason goes around, and he kills people. Easy peasy.

There's really nothing more that needs to be said. If you haven't seen it, go and watch it. It's pretty good. It's not perfect and certainly has more than enough issues in the dialogue (anyone who uses the word "stupendous" unironically to someone other than schoolchildren deserves to be hacked apart with a machete). It's certainly a hell of a lot better than the two piles of crap that awaits us for the next two weeks of our time in the madhouse of horror remakes.

That's right, it's almost time for the festival of Samhain...

...Halloween approaches...

.,,I just wish it were one of the good ones...

Friday the 13th is now available from New Line Cinemas and Platinum Dunes wherever movies are sold.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, October 9, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Grabbed By The Ghoulies"

Yes, Virginia, there was a time where Rare was not doomed to making shitty Kinect games and...that one game that we shall never speak of again...when they were first acquired by Microsoft.  There was a time when the bright colors, cheerful music, and kooky characters were allowed to make hay, indeed even during the time of the Company that dare not speak its name...and for once, I'm not talking about EA. No, Microsoft, the company that took one of the greatest game development companies of all time and put them to use making things far, far below what their talents were worthy of.  Just before that, however, we have Grabbed by the Ghoulies, the last hurrah of the by-gone age of Rare games that people actually wanted to play.

Is it good? Well, I never played it when it was new, so this was my opportunity to get in and see what was what. Is Grabbed a glorious final battle cry before the world was crushed by the invading armies of darkness, or a last pathetic whimper from Rare as Microsoft dragged it mewling, mutilated corpse away? Let's take a look!

The plot begins with protagonist Cooper and his girlfriend Amber backpacking through the countryside when a storm picks up and they seek shelter at a mansion despite Cooper's insistence that they should press on to the next town.  However, a vampire named Baron von Ghoul overhears Cooper talking smack about his home, calling it "creepy", and decides to teach him a lesson, sending his ghouls to grab Amber. And so it's up to Cooper to brave Ghouly Manor and save his girlfriend.

Immediately a problem for me is the camera angles. This is a 3-D platformer. We need control of the camera in order to function properly, and in a far more fluid manner as well. Giving me the ability to pan around with the left and right triggers helps, but in a combat situation things will be hairy and mistake will be made far, far too easily. Would it not have been better to map the controls for the camera to the right stick of the Xbox control? Like someone who would design a game intuitively for a console might think to do?

And before someone gets in touch to tell me that is totally intuitive game design: No, it isn't!

What's worse is, because of these controls, Cooper is always looking off to the left or the right toward an enemy - even when the enemy has been defeated until they poof away - or object instead of straight ahead where the camera is pointed. This isn't so much an issue since he still controls well enough, but it's an irritation that I just can't look past. No other Rare game I've ever played had this problem.

The right stick does attacking of any sort, though without a weapon Cooper throws some really lame kicks and punches. Of course, the first room was a Billiard Room, so I had Cooper pick himself up a pool cue to whack some skeletons with, and I was having a good time, having a good time. I didn't want to stop at all...until I found that you apparently can't take some items out of rooms, particularly weapons.

That is, of course, besides sections where the oddly very helpful servants in Ghouly Manor give you a weapon of some kind to fight off the various baddies that go bump in the night. These include a flaming torch or a Super Soaker filled with holy water that give a projectile weapon that still has to be aimed using the right stick (and often you'll have to re-aim a few times just to make sure that you're staying on target.

Another big emphasis of the game is a bunch of Jump Scare moments followed by a quick time event. While I appreciate the effort in creating an atmosphere, Jump Scares are incredibly stupid, and so are quick time events. Rare, you didn't have to pull this in your other games to create an atmosphere.  Mad Monster Mansion in Banjo-Kazooie and the on-the-nose named Creepy Castle in Donkey Kong 64 managed to do that pretty well without having to resort to this sort of nonsense.

It's all because of the mechanic where Cooper takes more damage when he's had a fright, but it's really unnecessary, especially when you have so little health to begin with and if the Baron's feeling like a dick (which is often), he'll reduce your health to a certain amount and leave you to squirm. Not that this makes combat difficult, by any stretch, seeing that the camera is the only enemy you will ever actually have a challenge with. And not only that, but if Cooper loses his hearts, it's okay, because he'll just 'port back to the beginning of whatever stage he fell at with virtually no penalty. So basically the only real challenge is in fighting off swarms of enemies. Which isn't actually challenging, it's padding. And cheap.

In a very totally-not-Luigi's Mansion-esque thing, Cooper's hits on foes take away hit points as indicated by a heart hovering over each enemy's head. Once it drops to zero, they get destroyed in a needless dramatic fashion and poof into the dust of nonexistence. Of course, certain enemies can't be taken out in such a manner and have to be dispatched with various implements such as the holy Super Soaker or the torch.

And of course, because it's Rare, we have the kooky and colorful characters. Here, it's most of the serving staff who are definitely in the "quirky" category. Oddly, not so much Cooper. Far from the comedic duo of Banjo and Kazooie, Cooper is a guy trying to be too cool for school...and he's not really doing it well. Still, he's a bad enough dude to rescue his girlfriend from a vampire's lair, so he's at least got roughly the same personality as Charlie Brewster. At the very least he's counterbalanced somewhat by Amber, who has no patience for his nonsense and seeks to keep him in check at virtually every opportunity.

And, of course, because it's Rare, there are the little nods and cameos to other Rare games - such as Banjo-Kazooie and Konker's Bad Fur Day - but unlike in other games (including - admittedly - those in that one that I will never speak of again), all they do is remind me of far better games that I could be playing.  While the aesthetic is admittedly exactly what I expect from Rare, even for a horror game, the only things about this that are the ridiculous and unintuitive camera controls, padding of enemy assaults out to next week, and the rather poorly thought out and implemented Fear mechanic that could have worked, but ultimately doesn't because quick time events are awful and hilariously out of place in  a platformer.

Of course, a great deal of this can be attributed to Rare being purchased by Microsoft, forcing them to adapt the game from what had been a Nintendo Gamecube game into an Xbox game. Sadly yet another thing that Microsoft has done to wreck the good name of Rare, resulting in what is sadly a rather mediocre game. So, no, I won't blame Rare for this one. I'll blame Microsoft.

Up yours, Microsoft!

Grabbed By The Ghoulies is now available from Rare and Microsoft Game Studios for Xbox.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.